March 11, 2020: Building Sustainable Futures with Mikhail Chester (Arizona State)

Infrastructure and the Anthropocene

When: Wednesday, March 11, 2020 – 11:30 to 12:30

Where: BC Hydro Theatre, UBC Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability (CIRS), 2260 West Mall, UBC

At the dawn of the twenty-first century, there are signs that several critical social, technological, and environmental variables are changing in ways that will have major effects on how we design and manage infrastructure. These variables include climate non-stationarity, uncertainty in financing, increasing ideological polarization in politics, and acceleration of technologies, as well as their interactions. These variables are positioned to increase the uncertainty and complexity of the systems that infrastructure must operate in and support, and are likely to require new competencies of engineers and infrastructure managers.

In this talk, Dr. Chester will attempt to characterize the emerging uncertainty and complexity that is becoming the new normal for infrastructure. In doing so, he will describe the changing relationship between infrastructure and the environment, how infrastructure implementation and operation have become wicked and complex problems, and how the accelerating integration of cyber technologies is likely to fundamentally shift the capabilities and vulnerabilities of infrastructure. He will discuss how our approaches to infrastructure need to shift from a focus on the complicated problems that we tackled in the past century, to a paradigm that acknowledges the growing complexity in the Anthropocene and our inability to manage it. As part of this, agility and flexibility will need to be core design principles (instead of rigidity) and education will need to be transitioned towards training infrastructure managers for goals of guiding complex systems.


Dr. Chester is the Director of the Metis Center for Infrastructure and Sustainable Engineering at Arizona State University where he maintains a research program focused on preparing infrastructure and their institutions for the challenges of the coming century. His work spans climate adaptation, disruptive technologies, innovative financing, transitions to agility and flexibility, and modernization of infrastructure management. He is co-lead of the Urban Resilience to Extremes research network composed of 19 institutions and 250 researchers across the Americas, focused on developing innovative infrastructure solutions for extreme events. He was awarded ASCE’s early career researcher Huber price in 2017.

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